Dig Baton Rouge

Close Call

By Leslie D. Rose

It was the scare that shook the Mid City area of Baton Rouge: the city would be losing yet another emergency room. But just as real panic began to ensue – just hours after the closure of the Baton Rouge General’s Mid City ER was announced last week – officials with the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) shelled out a whopping $18 million to keep the ER open for at least one more year.

“We began this day with heavy hearts, but now move forward with optimism and tremendous gratitude,” Baton Rouge General President and CEO Mark Slyter said in a statement. “On behalf of the staff at Baton Rouge General, we are certainly grateful to the (Jindal) Administration and DHH for working jointly to identify a means for continuing emergency services to the citizens of our city. With a collaborative spirit, we must continue working together towards innovative solutions that solve some of healthcare’s most complex challenges.”

The near-closure came as a result of an influx of uninsured people who began using the hospital after the state closed the Earl K. Long Hospital (EKL) in April 2013. Without a charity hospital or facility close to that area of town, the Baton Rouge General Mid-City became the next hub, and unfortunately the unit has been unable to withstand the need.

A report done by former DHH official Don Gregory – who is now the health care adviser at the Public Affairs Research Council – shows that emergency room visits to the Mid City facility increased 53% in the six months after EKL closed, with 40% of those visits by patients who were uninsured. Over that same span, the hospital’s uncompensated care costs rose 44%.

Under the state’s public/private hospital partnership, Our Lady of the Lake was supposed to pick up uninsured patients left without a hospital when EKL closed, but many of those patients live geographically closer to Mid City, which is why the influx is said to have occurred. The state did open an urgent care clinic near the site of EKL and reports show that it is treating about 5,000 more patients than the hospital did.

Now that DHH has come up with enough funds to keep the ER open through the end of the fiscal year – June 30 – the challenge will be to find a long-term solution both for the local facility and others around the state.

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